SOMEDAY, EVERYBODY agrees, Cole Hamels will pitch a no-hitter.
And doggone if it didn't look for a while as if someday was going to come last night.
The 23-year-old wunderkind struck out the first four Milwaukee Brewers batters he faced. He set down the first 18 in a row. He had the crowd of 42,713 (many of whom probably came to pick up a Ryan Howard bobblehead and almost saw a slice of history as a bonus) living and dying on every pitch.
J.J. Hardy broke the spell with a two-run homer in the seventh after Rickie Weeks led off with a walk, but Hamels ended up limiting Milwaukee to two runs in eight innings in a 6-2 win at Citizens Bank Park.
"How many? I don't know. But he's going to throw a few no-hitters," manager Charlie Manuel said.
Hamels casually agreed. "Of course. Every year I go out and try to get at least one," he said. "I just keep fighting and hope I get one every year."
As a rookie last season, he had a no-hitter for 6 2/3 innings at Houston before Adam Everett doubled.
And, by the way, the Phillies beat Milwaukee. It was their third straight win over a Brewers team that came to town Monday with the National League's best record.
They've also won six of their last seven to reach .500 for the first time this season after what has become their traditional slow start.
But this night belonged to Hamels, who struck out 11, walked only one and also went 2-for-3 at the plate with a run scored. He's now 6-1 with a 3.30 earned run average.
A lot has been going right for the Phillies lately. A week ago, in Arizona, they were trailing the Diamondbacks until a pinch-hit grand slam by hobbling - and soon-to-be-disabled - NL MVP Ryan Howard ignited the team.
Back home on Saturday, they gave up six runs in the seventh to the Cubs before heavy rains forced a halt in play. . .and then came right back to score six in the bottom of the inning after play resumed.
Monday night against the Brewers, they trailed into the bottom of the eighth before sending 11 batters to the plate to beat reliever Derrick Turnbow, who came into the game with a 1.76 ERA.
And Tuesday, after Milwaukee tied the score with solo homers in the eighth and ninth, catcher Carlos Ruiz won it with a walkoff blast with two outs and nobody on in the ninth.
After losing the first two games of the series, the Brewers started Damian Miller behind the plate last night and wore their blue jerseys. They had been 10-5 in the dark tops and a perfect 10-0 with Miller in the lineup, but even that didn't help as the Phillies quickly gave Hamels a comfortable 5-0 lead before the bottom third of the Brewers order came to the plate for the first time.
Soon, the stage belonged to Hamels. So when Corey Hart tried to bunt his way on leading off the fifth, the Brewers' rightfielder was roundly booed.
When Miller hit a twisting grounder toward shortstop that seemed to change direction to start the sixth, an almost audible gasp went through the blue seats before Jimmy Rollins was able to make the play.
When Ruiz slid in a futile attempt to catch pop foul hit by the next batter, Tony Graffanino, his effort was applauded as if he had made the catch.
Whenever Hamels threw a close pitch that home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo called a ball, they groaned in unison.
Whenever the slender lefthander got two strikes on a Brewers hitter, they stood and clapped in encouragement.
"When you get 40,000 fans behind you 100 percent, that excites you," Hamels said. "That's the adrenaline you kind of need."
The perfect game slipped away when Weeks walked to open the seventh. The count went to 3-0. He battled back.
"I needed to execute a 3-2 pitch and I didn't do it," Hamels said. "I was definitely bummed. You want it so bad."
That prompted a visit to the mound from pitching coach Rich Dubee. Four pitches later, the no-hitter and shutout were gone as well, when Hardy drilled a 2-1 fastball into the leftfield seats for his league-leading 13th home run.
"I thought it was a good pitch, but he's a phenomenal player who's having a great week," Hamels said.
Said Hardy: "I thought to myself that as well as he's throwing, I can't be defensive up there. I have to stay aggressive."
The Phillies arrived at the quarter point of their schedule with a .500 record. The trick now is to build on that. Last year, the Phillies didn't reach the break-even point for good until Aug. 21, when they were 62-62. In 2005, the date was July 9 at 44-44. In both cases, they ended up remaining in wild-card contention until the final week of the season.
In the meantime, the Hamels watch is on.
"Every time he goes out there, you expect him to be real good," Manuel said. "Throw a shutout, pitch a no-hitter, whatever. He's something special."
Charlie Manuel continues to avoid using his bullpen if at all possible. Last night, Brett Myers pitched for the fourth time in the last five games in a nonsave situation. He retired the Brewers in order and says he should be available this afternoon. "Give me the ball," he said . . . Let's just say the rest of the Phillies' bullpen is well-rested. Yoel Hernandez hasn't pitched in the last 10 games and Francisco Rosario has missed eight straight. Clay Condrey has appeared twice since his contract was purchased from Triple A Ottawa on May 5 and Fabio Castro has been in three games since being recalled from the Lynx on April 26 . . . The start of the game was delayed 1 hour, 32 minutes by a downpour. *